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Trade Balance (Eu)

Volume 404: debated on Thursday 1 May 2003

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What the balance of trade with the European Union was in (a) the latest 12 months for which figures are available and (b) the equivalent period 10 years previously. [110636]

In 1992, the United Kingdom's trade in goods and services with the European Union was worth £163 billion. The deficit then of £5.4 billion was worth just over 3 per cent. of the UK's total trade. In 2002, our trade with the European Union was worth nearly £300 billion. The deficit of just under £14 billion was worth 4.7 per cent. of the UK's total trade.

Is the Minister not genuinely worried about her balance of trade figures? The adverse balance of 2002 was the worst ever, particularly as it was recorded at a time when we had a positive balance with many parts of the world. As our trade with Europe used to be positive in certain years before we joined the EEC, could the right hon. Lady try to conduct an inquiry to find out what exactly has gone wrong? In particular—and I mean this very sincerely—could she try and find out whether the reason why we cannot sell as many goods to Europe is the misery and unemployment associated with membership of the single currency?

I know that the hon. Gentleman gets very excited about matters European, but I point out to him that the increase in the trade deficit over the past year or so is a result of the fact that we in Britain have enjoyed and are enjoying relatively good GDP growth. We are continuing to grow, whereas demand in the major continental economies has been disappointing.

I also point out to the hon. Gentleman that more than half our trade is with the European Union. The proportion has steadily increased over the years since we joined the Common Market, and is now about three times as much as the trade that we enjoy with the United States.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that for business in regions such as the north-east, which rely on EU countries for 78 per cent. of their exports, the nightmarish policies advocated by the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) would be disastrous?

My hon. Friend is right. If we were to pull out of the European Union and join the North American Free Trade Agreement, as some of the wilder Eurosceptics propose, it would be disastrous for jobs, investment and trade, and it would hit hard not only my hon. Friend's constituents but all our constituents.